As 2024 approaches, we're taking stock of the year that's passed and rounding up our favourite gear that landed in 2023.
1. Sonic Charge Synplant 2 - Winner
Well, the arrival of a follow-up to everyone’s favourite horticulturally-inspired soft synth came as a surprise this year, and has once again shook up the way we think about idea generation in software. Synplant 2 was not just an update to the original’s intuitive approach to building new sounds, but applied a raft of 2020’s improvements.
Perhaps the most notable was a wholehearted embrace of AI. The new intelligent ‘Genopatch’ tech takes its cues from any audio file you feed it and will intelligently concoct fresh new sounds that branch and grow, often in exhilaratingly unexpected directions. While there’s been huge innovation this year, we’re confident we’ll still be using and talking about Synplant 2 for years to come.
2. Cherry Audio Novachord + Solovox
While Synplant 2 takes the top prize, this year has seen gems from many of the major players. In the soft synth domain, both Cherry Audio and GForce Software have been notably prolific, with the former exhuming nearly-forgotten hardware classics in the shape of Novachord + Solovox, not to mention new go-to Jupiter-6 recreation Mercury-6.
3. FabFilter Twin 3
For our money, it was FabFilter who, like Synplant, saw fit to give their beloved synth staple Twin a new lease of life with Twin 3. First released back in 2005, Twin became a cherished modern classic, with its immense array of dance-friendly presets, easy-to-use workflow and exceptional sound.
Twin 2 arrived in 2009 and that seemed to be that, but, over a decade later Twin 3 brought with it a completely redesigned GUI, a far slicker workflow, a range of new oscillators and filters, an all-new drag-and-drop modulation system, plus an added effects section. It’s as magnificently manipulable a sound design tool as its predecessors, and cracking fun to boot.
4. Minimal Audio Current
The subscription-as-standard model came under fire this year from a community drowning in memberships. Waves Audio was forced to backtrack on moving to a subs-only model for its plugins and, Minimal Audio’s launch of their feature-rich debut soft synth Current was overshadowed by something similar.
A shame, as Current on its own merits is wonderful. Its deep modulation abilities, deft integration of Minimal Audio’s popular effect stable and ability to craft lush big-screen-ready sounds make it another of our favourites.
5. Erica Synths Zen Delay Virtual
While there were more than a few notable effects released this year (Caelum Audio Choric, Polyverse Supermodal and AIR Delay Pro, to name but three), the effect that we kept going back to was Erica Synths’ Zen Delay Virtual.
We loved the knob-tastic original hardware unit released back in 2019, and its software sibling loses nothing in the transition. ZDV makes crafting deep, captivating delays incredibly easy, while the expanded modulation and routing controls within the software further expanded what this modern classic can do.
6. Modalics Beat Scholar
In the beat-making domain, while we were thrilled by many updates to tried-and-tested classics (D16 Drumazon 2 in particular) it was Modalics’ Beat Scholar that really boosted our creative rhythm-generation juices this year.
The first product by the small software company surprised us by both redefining the depths of beat-character and detail we could get via their unique ‘pizza’ slice ethos, and also with just how intuitive making the wonkiest, weirdest beats could be.
7. Leapwing Audio StageOne 2
On the mixing tools front, we must doff our cap to Leapwing Audio’s StageOne 2. The second revision of the company’s sound stage management plugin has been a godsend for numerous mixing tribulations this year. Its Phase Recovery system in particular is massively beneficial to those wrangling with complex mixes and balancing countless stems.
8. Sound Particles SkyDust 3D
This year’s watchword was innovation – and with SkyDust 3D, Sound Particles brought the world’s first spatial audio-angled synth, something that many have been crying out for. Driven by eight flexible oscillators, a 3D sound system, and enticing space-conscious LFOs and modulation abilities, it was an adept tool for re-thinking the creation of tracks with spatiality at the forefront, not just as an afterthought.
While we’re certain that more creative tools and instruments for the spatial domain will follow, for now Sound Particles has paved the way forward.